Within he boundary of the 4,836 acre Channels State Forest is a 721 acre parcel that has been dedicated in perpetuity as the Channels Natural Area Preserve. At the crest of the Clinch Mountain, within the Natural Area Preserve, are the Great Channels of Virginia, impressive formations of 400-million-year-old sandstone outcroppings. Geologists conclude that the Channels were likely formed while the high-elevation sandstone cap was under the influence of permafrost and ice wedging during the last ice age. These forces shattered and enlarged joints in the sandstone caprock. Hiking the trail will take you through these outcroppings and continuing on you will find the Channels Fire Tower at the crest of the mountain.
Located on the southern slope of Clinch Mountain, elevations on the Channels State Forest range from 1,800 feet to more than 4,200 feet. Ecological communities and forest types change significantly with elevation with a diversity of forest types from cove hardwoods to northern hardwoods. There are both rare and imperiled plant species within the preserve.
The Great Channels Preserve main parking area is accessed from Lebanon, VA heading south through Elk Garden on State Route 80, past Route 619. Watch for the Preserve parking area signs to access the main trailhead.